Unions and legislators who worked on Illinois’ landmark education reform legislation are upset with an advocate who bragged in Aspen last week that he snookered them into accepting drastic cuts in teacher union’s rights, writes the Chicago Sun-Times political reporter Abdon M. Pallasch.
“There was a palpable sense of concern if not shock on the part of the teachers’ unions of Illinois that Speaker [of the House Mike] Madigan had changed allegiance and that we had clear political capability to potentially jam this proposal down their throats the same way that pension reform had been jammed down their throats six months earlier,” Jonah Edelman, chair of Oregon-based Stand for Children, said in Colorado last week.
Pallasch writes that unions and legislators say they engaged in a collaborative effort in which all sides gave a little in an effort to improve Illinois’ schools. The legislation makes it easier to fire bad teachers; lengthen Chicago’s school days; and makes teacher strikes nearly impossible in Chicago.
But Edelman, son of civil rights crusader Marian Wright Edelman, told attendees at the Aspen Ideas Festival, that, actually, he led a well-funded campaign that used lobbyists and shrewd political gamesmanship to pressure union leaders to give up their rights.
“They essentially gave away every single provision related to teacher effectiveness that we had proposed — everything we had fought for in Colorado,” Edelman said in Aspen. “We hired 11 lobbyists, including four of the absolute best insiders and seven of the best minority lobbyists, preventing the unions from hiring them.”
Since the video of Edelman’s lecture went viral, he apologized for his “arrogance” in claiming his political manipulations alone passed the bill to the exclusion of unions’ contributions. The Illinois Education Association declined his apology.
Legislators and union leaders say they had been moving toward many of these reforms before Edelman arrived from Oregon.
“I understand how politics goes in Illinois — he does not ‘cause he just got here,” state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) told the Sun-Times. Lightford, who represents Austin in the Illinois Senate, shepherded the bill through the Illinois General Assembly.
“He came to two meetings out of 60 or 70, and one of those was crowded, he couldn’t get a seat, so he left early.”